My Tears of the Kingdom Addiction

I don’t know how big my internet social bubble really is, but it feels like everyone in the world that bubble has been playing a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom lately. Me included! It’s amazing, and I’m thoroughly engrossed—I think I’ve stayed up playing until 3:00am multiple nights in the past two weeks. That was easier when I was younger, but now my late-30s body and mind feels like mush the next day. My Switch says I’ve put in over 55 hours so far…

Why am I staying up playing so late? Can I sue Nintendo for making this game too addicting? (Feel free to reach out with legitimate legal advice.)

For those outside the Zelda Zeitgeist, Tears of the Kingdom is yet another game where you control the hero (Link) and traverse the world and story to save the princess. It’s a franchise known for using pretty much the same story arc, but set in different places and with different mechanics. What makes TOTK a 10/10 game of the year award winner and making me addicted is two-fold:

  • The open-world, just-one-more-thing, exploration
  • The freedom it gives players to do just about anything they want (except pet the dog)

Open-World Child-Like Wonder

I’ve played about 8 mainline Zelda games, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I fell in love with my very first Zelda: 1992’s A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo. After you beat the first four dungeons, you think the game is over, but then surprise! You get sent to the Dark World and have eight more dungeons to beat and all new side quests across the whole map. This blew my mind as a ~7 year old and I’ve been hooked ever since. (Also if you’re a Zelda fan and never played this one, highly recommend! Still holds up.)

That sense of surprise and child-like wonder is not only alive and well in the open-world of Tears of the Kingdom, but thriving. TOTK is actually a sequel to 2017’s Breath of the Wild, which was the first Zelda to switch to an open-world format (ignoring the very first Zelda). In both games, it’s not only that you as a player can now go anywhere you want in the world at any time, it’s that Nintendo also put interest and surprises all over the map for you to go find.

The games are specifically designed to let you see interesting things in the distance (the first time I saw a dragon in the sky, I think my jaw dropped). So what ends up happening is you’re headed to one objective, but over to your right you see something that makes you say “Oh let me just quickly check that out.” Then when you’re over there, you have a new horizon, see something else, and head over there. Three hours later you’re on the other side of the map and asking yourself “What was I supposed to be doing again?” This is by design, and reinforced through other parts of the game like an empty map to start the game.

If you haven’t played, here’s a video that demonstrates what I’m talking about in BOTW:

TOTK uses this same formula, but changes up the landscape and adds two new levels to the world: floating islands in the sky (making your horizon even more jam-packed with interest), and an underground (which switches up the formula and gives you no horizon to see anything, spooky). It also adds more methods of traversing vertically. The result is the same: “What was I supposed to be doing again?”

Freedom & Creation &… Gundams?

In both BOTW and TOTK, Link is given special powers to help him traverse the world and fight the baddies. BOTW gave players the ability to pick up and move around certain objects, which helped solve most of the game’s puzzles. In TOTK, this mechanic was upgraded so you can not only manipulate objects, but fuse them together.

This ability to fuse and build completely changes the game. Your weapons are amalgamations of your own creations, with different properties depending on what you’re fusing. It brings out the crazy scientist in you as a player. You can create all sorts of vehicles for traversing the world and fighting baddies, bringing out your inner engineer. I didn’t expect the game to turn into make-your-own-gundam, but that’s what Nintendo did! I find myself watching YouTube all day to see what crazy and cool (and stupid) contraptions other people made:

What’s amazing about these special abilities is that they’re almost game-breaking in a way. The game really doesn’t care how you beat a dungeon or shrine—it gives you a bunch of tools and objects and is happy to let you do you. And exploring the open-world is a breeze when you can make cars and planes and flying motorbikes.

I’ve not played any other game like TOTK, even other open-world games. It feels very freeing, and I know game developers are taking notes. I’m looking forward to spiritual successors and whatever games this one inspires!

I find myself wondering if this design philosophy—player freedom—translates in any way to what we plan to do here at Good Enough, outside of browser games. How would that work in, say, a to-do app? Or forum software? I’m not quite sure yet, but I do feel like there’s some lessons here that can translate…